Blood calcium levels and prostate cancer risk


A Reuters report issued today quotes US-based researchers as saying that men with elevated levels of calcium in their blood may have a much higher risk of getting fatal prostate cancer than the average man with a diagnosis of prostate cancer. These data, based on information provided by 2,814 men in a major government health survey who also provided blood samples, suggest that a simple blood test may be capable of identifying men at higher risk for the most dangerous forms of prostate cancer.

According to this study, men whose blood calcium levels were in the top 33 percent had 2.68 times the risk of developing fatal prostate cancer later in life compared to those in the bottom third.

“If serum calcium really does increase your risk for fatal prostate cancer, that’s wonderfully exciting because serum calcium levels can be changed,” Gary Schwartz of Wake Forest University School of Medicine is quoted as saying in a telephone interview. He continued, “One way to think of it is to think of the tremendous advances in the control of cardiovascular disease that occur from understanding that things like serum cholesterol predict heart attack,” Schwartz added.

Doctors have bee struggling for years to find ways to predict if a man who gets prostate cancer will have a tumor that poses little danger, as is often the case, or one that is a killer. In this recent study, blood calcium was not very predictive of whether a man would get nonlethal prostate cancer, but was highly predictive of whether a man would get a fatal case, the researchers wrote in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. On average, the blood samples were given a decade before the cancer appeared, the researchers said.

Schwartz said it is unclear whether it is the actual calcium or blood levels of parathyroid hormone, which is supposed to keep calcium levels at normal levels in the bloodstream, that is raising the risk. Either way, he said there are drugs that can lower them, including Fontus Pharmaceuticals Inc’s Rocaltrol, also called calcitriol; Genzyme Corp’s Hectorol (doxercalciferol); Abbott Laboratories’ Zemplar (paricalcitol); and Amgen Inc’s Sensipar (cinacalcet).

People treated for high blood calcium usually have chronic kidney disease, which is associated with low vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D levels elevate parathyroid hormone levels, Schwartz said.

Halcyon Skinner of the University of Wisconsin, who also worked on the study, said there is little relationship between calcium in the diet and blood calcium levels, so these men would not benefit from eating less food rich in calcium.

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